iRead competition tries to revive reading habit

Although Islam encourages its followers to read and seek knowledge, the habit of reading often appears to be a dying one in the Kingdom.

July 19, 2014
iRead competition tries to revive reading habit
iRead competition tries to revive reading habit

Selma Roth

Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — Although Islam encourages its followers to read and seek knowledge, the habit of reading often appears to be a dying one in the Kingdom. The Dhahran-based King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, a project by Saudi Aramco, is on a mission to reverse this trend by organizing a reading competition that has already attracted over 6,000 applicants this year.

Piloted last year in the Eastern Province, middle school, high school and university aged students from all over the Kingdom were invited to enter the iRead competition that was launched in March this year in Riyadh. Participants were able to submit their applications, in which they were asked to show their love of reading in the most creative, passionate and skilled ways possible until April 19.

Last year, applicants were able to submit written and photographic work to enter the contest and this year has seen the addition of a video animation and short film category, which will fall under the separate competition iBroadcast.

The 6,400 iRead applications that got accepted this year were a noticeable increase from 2,500 submissions last year and considerably more than what the organizers had hoped for, according to Tariq Khawaji, media representative of King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture.

Following the deadline of participation, 250 applications were selected for the consecutive round. For the round after, the competition’s judges traveled to Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam to interview 160 applicants from all over the country. Those who had to travel from small towns and villages for the meeting had all travel expenses covered by the organizers, said Khawaji.

Of these shortlisted applicants, 13 boys and 27 girls were selected for the post-Ramadan round, to be held from Aug. 10 to 21 in the center’s iThra Theater, during which the students will share their thoughts and ideas with artists, take part in debates and attend talks about books, cinema, the arts and poetry.

The last round, Khawaji continued, will take place in Dhahran on Sept. 9, 10, and 11. This final will see the participation of 18 students who will attend lectures by international and local speakers on reading.

Through training and mentoring, the finalists are given access to artists, creative professionals, photographers, videographers and writers to help develop and refine sophisticated public presentations on the theme of reading, he said.

Out of the 18 finalists, one will be awarded the title “Reader of the Year,” in addition to a cash prize of SR50,000. On the same occasion, a “Beauty and the Reader” photography award will be handed to the image that most creatively conveys the love of reading.

The iRead competition is one of the iThra Youth’s i-programs, an initiative set up in 2012 by Saudi Aramco CEO Khalid Al-Falih aimed at enriching the youth by offering a variety of learning experiences for students and their teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Its goal is to reach 2 million Saudis by 2020 and support the country’s transition toward a knowledge-based society.

“The iRead contest is the jewel of Saudi Aramco’s initiative to enrich young people, because it enriches thought and inspires the imagination,” said Fuad Therman, director of the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, during the launch of this year’s competition at the Riyadh International Book Fair.

Apart from the 2,500 reading submissions, last year’s launch saw the participation of 6,000 photography applicants and 2,800 visitors to the final ceremonies. This year, admissions for this competition will close on Aug. 31. The iBroadcast category is also still open for participation.

According to Khawaji, iThra Youth is one of King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture’s most popular public outreach activities. The center, founded in 2008 in commemoration of Saudi Aramco’s 75th anniversary as the national energy company of Saudi Arabia, is a Saudi Aramco project dedicated to both Arab heritage and global art and culture. Expected to be opened in 2015 in Dhahran, the complex of buildings will house a four-gallery museum and hall for international exhibitions, a children’s museum and “Discovery Zone,” a library, archives, a mosque, and spaces for live events as well as cafes and social areas.

July 19, 2014
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